April 25, 2016
Source: The Australian
Fewer than half of the 114 children taken from Australia during custody disputes in the past financial year have been returned, despite appropriate action having been taken under The Hague convention.
Figures from the Attorney-General’s Department show Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner’s case is one of many involving children removed from the country by one parent against the other’s will.
Of the 114 children removed from Australia, only 54 have been returned. A bill that would have criminalised the retention of children overseas in defiance of Family Court orders has been bouncing between parliament and the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee for at least five years.
The Family Court can intervene only in cases pertaining to countries that are signatories to The Hague convention, which is why Lebanon — not a signatory — is often the country of choice for parents who want to flee. Such was the case with Ms Faulkner, whose children were taken to Lebanon by their Lebanese-American father, prompting Ms Faulkner to launch a botched counter-abduction with the assistance of the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes.
Foreign Prisoners Support Service director Martin Hodgson, who helped win journalist Peter Greste’s freedom in an Egyptian court case, said yesterday he had represented two Australian women whose husbands fled to Lebanon with their children. “Lebanon is a safe harbour for this issue (custody),” he said. “It’s much easier (for women) to get redress in Saudi on custody than it is in Lebanon.”
International parental child abduction has proven a difficult problem for Australian politicians since the issue first came before the Senate committee in August 2011. Debate about what to do has been going on for so long that five of the six senators who sat in on original committee hearings are no longer in parliament. The one who is — Michaelia Cash — was not available for comment yesterday on why reform had taken so long.
Mark Furner, who sat on the committee — he is now an MP in the Queensland parliament — said he still supported the new laws, which would have made it a crime for a parent not to return their child when ordered by the Family Court.
A spokesman for Attorney-General George Brandis said yesterday the government was “considering its recommendations and continues to consult with stakeholders”.
In the two weeks since the Faulkner case exploded, another two cases of parental abduction have come before the Family Court. In the first, a mother known only as Ms Padwa has been ordered to return her six-year-old daughter to the father, in The Netherlands. The child was born in The Netherlands, but raised partly in Indonesia. Her father is Dutch, her mother is Indonesian and the case came before the Australian Family Court only because the mother is now married to an Australian.
In a second case, the chief executive of an international company has been ordered to send his two sons back to Sydney from New York. The father, known in court documents as Mr Bondelmonte, flew the boys, aged 15 and 17, on a business-class trip to Manhattan in January, then wrote an email to his former wife saying they all wanted to stay.
The court heard the older boy was “estranged from his mother and, at his request, has not had any contact with her since the end of September 2013”. The court also saw emails from the younger boy saying he wanted to stay in New York because it’s “awesome”. The mother told the court she “struggled financially and could not compete with the largesse the children enjoyed with the father”.
The court found the father was “flouting the court’s order and even acting in a manner to challenge the court’s authority”.